Ringing endorsement

| Updated on July 13, 2018 Published on July 12, 2018

India has codified its commitment to net neutrality but there are concerns over exclusion of specialised services

The Department of Telecom (DoT) needs to be commended for taking the lead in adopting strong net neutrality rules and ensuring that the free nature of Internet is not changed. Strong rules are important because telecom operators, being the gatekeepers, have the power to differentiate on the basis of content. Practices like blocking, slowing down or throttling, and preferential treatment of certain content over others are ways in which an operator can game the network to influence consumer behaviour. By explicitly barring such practices, the DoT has put India as the flag-bearer of net neutrality.

However, there are some concerns on the exclusion of specialised services from the purview of net neutrality without specifying what those are. This could be a cause for concern given that the operators have exploited policy loopholes in the past. For example, a communication network for connected cars in the future may be rightly classified as a specialised service wherein operators may have to ensure a higher grade of service compared to the mass internet. However, a telecom operator could misuse this provision. There are also worries over excluding VoIP and IPTV services from the purview of the neutrality guidelines. This could, for example, enable an operator to give superior quality for its own voice over internet service compared to WhatsApp. The telecom department should not only put out a list of such services that can be excluded from net neutrality rules but also set up a monitoring platform to ensure that telecom companies are transparent in disclosures about such specialised services. A neutral enforcement body should be set up to ensure implementation of net neutrality; industry-led bodies have seldom protected the rights of consumers.

Meanwhile, telecom operators must be given fiscal support to come out of financial stress. The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 has identified all the key areas of concerns and opportunities for growth but fails to give details on how it would be different from all the earlier attempts at achieving some of these goals. The policy, for example, merely restates that the plan is to rationalise government taxes and levies for the sector in addition to giving critical infrastructure status to the industry but there is no time frame to achieve this. The other thing which policy-makers must do is to hasten the data protection rules. The white paper on data protection released by a high-level government committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna was released in November last but there has been no significant movement towards bringing in a comprehensive policy. Unambiguous net neutrality rules, clear time frame for implementing National Digital Communications Policy 2018 and strong data protection laws are the three pillars on which India’s internet growth must rest on.

Published on July 12, 2018
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